Will St Leger talks art, politics and activism
“I knew i was going to be an artist when i was eight years old, very early on I wanted to do animations and I wanted to draw comics.”
“I did my first print job when I was 15, this sort of pen and ink drawing, went to a printer, I think I paid about £25 and he gave me 100 or 200 black and white posters that all my family and friends filled in the colours on and I sold them for £1 each. I went around to all the shops and sold them as Christmas gifts.”
Early experiments aside, most of Will St Leger’s work has been rooted in political activism. A long-time volunteer with environmental groups in Ireland, it was his involvement with Greenpeace that led to his street art and guerilla-style campaigns that made his name in the art world.
“Around 2000 I started getting into street art. I did a lot of direct actions with Greenpeace and then got involved with campaigns, designing campaign logos and stuff like that.
"After a while they said we’re going to do an action with this building, and we thought it’d be good if we came up with these stencils and stencil our campaign message onto it like ‘Ancient Forest - Crime Scene’ and things like that.
“It was never really subversive or satirical to start with, it was direct. The satire only came later when I was adding my own voice to things.”
Leaving Ireland for ten years, it was the shock of seeing what had happened his home city during Celtic Tiger Ireland that drove St Leger on.
“I came back to Ireland in 2005 and saw a huge, huge chance in Irish society. People would still talk to you, still have the craic, which you couldn’t in London. I liked that but I saw the scrabbling to get on the property ladder that everyone was talking about.
“I felt a little disappointed that people were fetishising luxury goods and talking about shares and property all the time and that’s when the Collins thing came along.
“My artist statement about the Collins piece was about what he would do if he had a day off but because I brought it out at that time everybody read into it ‘Oh it’s a Celtic Tiger thing’. It was actually more about what he would do if he was alive in Ireland today.”
Work in progress at Damn Fine Print...
“Until 2006 or 2007 most of the shows I did were in static gallery spaces and when it came to 2008 I said I never want to do an exhibition again where I just put my work on a wall and people come along to look at it.”
“I wanted to do a show where everyone just steals the work on the wall.
"So I went to the Fringe and said, I want to do a show called Art Raid where people come to a gallery and it’s a very fancy space and there’s drinks and an invigilator and security and all that but everybody knows that if the fire alarm goes off then anyone can take any piece of work off the wall.
"It was an experiment in human behaviour and you could write a thesis in it, it was so crazy.”
“After Art Raid I decided, this is what I want to do now. I want to interfere with people’s everyday lives so we then came up with Antics Rogue Show where a team of people picked up shit art and paintings and we pimped them.”
In recent years, St Leger has moved away from paint and stencil work as his main tools.
Activism and mischief-making remain core themes but his works are growing, big physical structures made with power tools and grinders, sculptures that and installations that challenge viewers on the street and raise subjects that they may not be entirely comfortable with.
“The Goal project happened because they had seen a piece I did in 2007 where I put 100 fake landmines around Dublin for international landmine awareness day. It was art but also interventionist as well.
“Goal rang me up and it took me literally an hour to think about it. I called them back and said if I’m going to do something, I want it to be this:
"I’m going to plant an unexploded missile in the street in Dublin.
"I had two weeks to do it. It was quite political but it wasn’t directed at any particular country, it was trying to highlight a plight.”
And what's next for the for the talented designer, campaigner, music lover and joker?
He's still keen to stay in the public eye, his interaction with the city around us has become a source of great joy and inspiration for others over the years, paving the way for artists after him and changing public perceptions of how and why we interact with art in whatever form it's presented.
Between scheming and plotting new projects, he tell us he's experimenting with an invisible ink that only appears as pollution levels increase. He's also looking to get involved in the Dublin Canvas project and, with a laugh, a couple of other projects that might take a big longer to come together.
He says with a smile: "I’ve moved into physical work but the most important thing is realism, it has to look really fucking real to me. I have to be fooled by it, I have to be utterly, utterly convinced that this is real."